x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Beneath the Darkness: a masterclass in watered-down horror

There's nothing here to strike fear into audience members' hearts, and it's too poker-faced to work as entertaining schlock.

Tony Oller and Dennis Quaid in Beneath the Darkness.
Tony Oller and Dennis Quaid in Beneath the Darkness.

Beneath the Darkness
Director: Martin Guigui
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Tony Oller, Aimee Teegarden
*

In a quiet Texan town, the respected mortician and former American football star Ely (Quaid) has a secret. He's a psychopathic murderer. The End. That really is all anyone needs to know about low-budget horror Beneath the Darkness, and we learn it in the first 10 minutes. The following 80, which see a gang of high-school buddies risking their lives to expose Ely, feel like a masterclass in watered-down horror. There's nothing here to strike fear into audience members' hearts, and it's too po-faced to work as entertaining schlock.

Even the film's title evokes almost nothing. The killer has no particular calling card, no imaginative murder method, nor any inventive means of disposing of bodies. He simply shoots his victims with a gun. When his motivation is finally "revealed", it comes as no surprise at all. The murderer-masquerading-as-pillar-of-the-community act should feel unsettling at the very least but Quaid, who is cast against his usual avuncular type here, is too hammy to be creepy. His one distinguishing feature: he smokes an electronic cigarette. Terrifying. Then there are the teenagers, studying Shakespeare (like in every high-school movie), who face constant obstruction and disbelief from the authorities. You neither squirm when they are in peril, nor secretly pine for them to be dispatched. Instead, you just wait for the whole mess to be buried and forgotten about.